By Scott Hill
Wichita, Kansas, is the home of a professional, independent league baseball team known as the Wichita Wingnuts (Go Nuts!). The team has been quite successful, winning multiple division titles and and a league championship in its short nine-year existence. Locally, many are quite proud of their team. And for good reason. They are a solid baseball team, filled with players with big dreams who all have much more talent and guts than I’ll ever have.
The New York Yankees is a household name across the United States. Like them or not, there is no dispute as to their historic success, with 27 World Series titles to their name. In today’s time, you can watch every single game (all 162 games), if you should choose. With the Yankee’s pedigree and financial strength, the world can rightfully expect much from the Yankees, year in and year out.
The two teams are in totally different leagues, pun intended. While a head-to-head competition would never occur, there is no doubt on who would prevail and it would not be as close as this article’s title would suggest. If you were to judge quality of play, a Wichitan would never leave their house and would simply tune in on TV or online to watch the Yankees over heading out to a Wingnuts game.
With all that, why do people follow local baseball?
If baseball were bourbon, then the Wichita Wingnuts would be a local craft distiller known as Wheat State Distilling. The New York Yankees would be any one of the half-dozen major distilleries. Craft distillers are simply not in the major leagues. End of conversation.
The Major Distilleries have (in many cases) hundreds of years of history. They have relatively unlimited resources (financial and know-how) to develop truly exceptional products. They have entire warehouses dedicated to experimentation, long before a product would ever hit the market. A consumer should expect nothing less out of the big distilleries than world-class products.
The small guys simply can’t play on that same field, at least when in comes to whiskey (I’ll concede that we can and do expect more from craft distillers of gin and vodka, where the small guys can put out product on par with the big players). Local, craft distilleries play within the confines of budgets, resources, know-how and marketability. They are made successful upon the sweat and tears of local craftsman, who are not afraid to put their products on the shelf next to world-class products of the major distilleries.
Craft whiskey is something to be enjoyed. Even though I can grab a glass of New York Yankee any time, any day, there is a certain satisfaction to reaching for a glass of Wichita Wingnuts.
Wheat State is a craft distiller in Wichita, Kansas. It was founded in 2013, and they began producing vodka, gin, rum and whiskey soon thereafter. It now has marketed several whiskeys, including a Corn Whiskey, a Wheat Whiskey and their flagship product, Bella Bahre’s Bourbon. To date, it’s releases have been limited to product that is aged in smaller than the standard 53 gallon barrels. All of their products are made in house, and they do not source any whiskey from any other distillery.
Wheat State prides itself on a field-to-product experience. Each bottle is individually identifiable to its unique history, including grain source, mash bill, fermentation, distillation and aging. There is simply no hiding from what the distillery is serving up.
With that background, I set out to give two batches of Wheat State’s Bella Bahre’s Bourbon a review. Both batches are 75% Corn and 25% Wheat.
Bella Bahre’s Bourbon Batch 1: (Just short of 2 years)
Nose: Corn and caramel sweetness; toffee; dried fruit (raisin and cherry); some ethanol that dissipates the longer in the glass.
Palate: Initial brown sugar; some spice (pepper and cinnamon); raisins and cocoa; noticeable but not overpowering alcohol burn.
Finish: Short; spice and some lingering bittersweet.
Overall: The nose is impressive for a young bourbon, as is the creamy mouthfeel. The finish is largely absent.
Bella Bahre’s Bourbon Batch 2: (2 Years, 3 months)
Nose: Corn and butterscotch; oak; toffee; less dried fruit; a bit more graininess.
Palate: Vanilla and caramel; more balanced with less spice; light fruit; citrus.
Finish: Longer, lingering corn sweetness.
Overall: While I typically don’t reference color, Batch 2 has a much deeper amber color than Batch 1. The two general differences appear to be the barrel entry proof and the age, both of which I think have reacted favorably with the wood. However, I do prefer the Batch 1 shorter finish to the Batch 2 longer finish, as the Batch 2 finish leaves a lingering young corniness that isn’t desirable. Overall, some additional age (and experience by the distillers no doubt) is paying off, as Batch 2 is overall tastier than Batch 1.
Wheat State’s Bella Bahre’s Bourbon is competitive with about any craft product I’ve tasted. But, it’s not the New York Yankees. Like all start-up truly craft distilled products, it lacks the complexity, roundness and age of the big boys. It’s corny and contains noticeable young, small cask defects. But, it’s local, it’s craft, and it’s pretty darn good for what it is.